The X Button
Formative Fears

by Todd Ciolek,
Double Fine's Broken Age: Act Two is out this week. It concludes one of my favorite games from last year, and that's not all. It also ends a long and sometimes contentious story about game development and fundraising. The game grew from one of the first major Kickstarter successes, in which Double Fine raised over $3 million for an old-fashioned point-and-click adventure game from Double Fine founder and former LucasArts writer-director Tim Schafer (Grim Fandango, Full Throttle). Its initial release date aimed for the middle of 2013, but problems arose. Delays set in, extra funds were sought, fans weren't happy, and Double Fine put out the first act of the game to help fund the second.

After all of that, it's nice to sit down, turn on a computer, and play the game. I really liked the first part of Broken Age, and I like the second part so far.

I say “so far” because I haven't finished it. I'm stuck on a puzzle, and I refuse to look for online hints. I'm not the only one who finds the puzzles much tougher in the second act, and this seems intentional. Many people complained that the first act's puzzles were too breezy and simple, and so Double Fine toughened things up for the conclusion. Some of the challenges require players to switch between pampered space-kid Shay and unwilling sacrificial maiden Vella as they explore each other's worlds, and I believe that at least one puzzle involves randomized solutions. So yes, it's harder. I'm not sure if that makes it better.

Playing the second leg of Broken Age takes me back to the LucasArts adventure games it often tries to evoke, and it makes me wonder just what we needed from them. The puzzles were certainly part of it, but they weren't the keystones of their games. We don't remember the revelatory combinations of punchcards and metal detectors and alternate-reality American flags so much as we remember the stories themselves. It was the bizarre ending that made Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge truly stick with us. It was the bitter salesman banter than made Grim Fandango a charmer from its first scenes. The puzzles gave the games further and weirder appeal. Perhaps they were all that made them games in the more stringent sense. But they weren't what stayed with us when the pointing and clicking ended.

Of course, this means that I'm better off giving up and checking a walkthrough to get me through the nastier puzzles in Broken Age. And yet I don't want to do that just yet. Something tells me that it's still a game, and I still should cheat only as a last resort. Or perhaps I just want to delay the game a little more.

NEWS

KONAMI CANCELS SILENT HILLS, DELISTS ITSELF, DOESN'T CARE
I wouldn't have figured Konami for the next big, shocking game-company pullout. To be fair, Konami hasn't closed its doors or vanished into a black hole. Yet within a week, they've announced a plan to delist themselves from the New York Stock Exchange and canceled a promising Silent Hill reboot from Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro. And then there's the persistent but unproven rumor that Konami's upper executive echelons don't much care for the video-game business at all.

Silent Hills got off to a good start last year, when a PlayStation 4 demo surfaced under the code name P.T. It walked players through a richly eerie house full of jump scares and bug infestations, and it promised a return to the careful suspense of the older, better Silent Hill games. Now it's over. Konami confirmed the cancellation of Silent Hills this week, little over a month after rumors swirled that Kojima would depart the company following Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

And then there's the New York Stock Exchange delisting. In some ways, it's housecleaning; Konami does most of its trading through the Tokyo exchange, and the company will still be listed there and in London. Konami will also be “over the counter” trading even after it leaves the New York exchange in July. That's still not a good sign.

Where does Konami sit, anyway? Metal Gear endures, but other long-running series sank from view. Silent Hill is unlikely to get another reboot any time soon, Castlevania saw both a fizzled reboot and the departure of longtime producer Koji Igarashi, and no one's heard anything good from Contra or Suikoden or Gradius in years. And what about all of those Hudson Soft properties that Konami snatched up?

Konami isn't going anywhere, of course. The company makes far too much money from slot machines, toys, health clubs, perfectly legal gambling ventures, and the Yu-Gi-Oh! monolith. In fact, that may be why they're backing away from video games. Like SNK and Irem and other companies before then, Konami may come to realize that games aren't worth the investment unless they're proven triple-AAA troves like Metal Gear or something to pack into pachinko machines, slot machines, and pachislot machines.

Yet popular games rarely go homeless for long. Irem disbanded its video-game division in 2011 and canceled anything that wasn't a pachislot attraction, but Kazuma Kujo, who produced the Disaster Report games at Irem, later nabbed the rights to the series through his new studio. A pact with gambling hive Aruze left fan-favorite SNK gutted by 2001, but founder Eikichi Kawasaki started a new company, bought all of SNK's properties, and launched many of them again as SNK Playmore (which now has problems making full-blown games). Capcom ignored Mega Man a little too much, but Keiji Inafune, stepfather of the series, launched spiritual successor Mighty No. 9. So even if Konami forsakes Silent Hill, we'll have to feign surprise if Del Toro surfaces with a completely unrelated survival-horror game that wears its Silent Hill influences with borderline plagiarist pride.

The real casualties of Konami's new reluctance are the obscure attempts, the ones that publishers scarcely would consider even in times of rampant profit. They're the Dragoon Mights, the Xexexes, and all of the poor Hudson games that Konami now owns and neglects. They'll have no champions like Silent Hill almost certainly will.

NINTENDO SHRINKS FROM SUPER NES GAMES ON WII U
Do you enjoy having Super NES titles on the Wii U's Virtual Console? I do. True, we can emulate the system's entire catalog on computers at no cost but our honor, and yet there's something pleasant about having a Super NES game legitimately on your Wii U's touch-screen controller. That, and Nintendo still hasn't used the Virtual Console to release Terranigma in North America, so it simply can't stop the Super NES library updates.

Nintendo may not care, though. A Natsume rep recently stated that Nintendo “has moved onto other classic systems” when asked about a Pocky & Rocky reissue for the Wii U. Further statements from the Natsume camp were even more disheartening: Nintendo approves all Virtual Console selections, and “if it's not up now, it's not coming” as far as Super NES titles are concerned.

Nintendo hasn't weighed in on this, but their calendar favors Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Advance titles when it comes to the Virtual Console. It's a shame, too, as there are all sorts of Super NES games in dire need of Virtual Console resurrection. If you're holding out for rarities like Hagane: The Final Conflict and Metal Warriors (above) to appear on your Wii U, you may be envying eBay auctions for quite a while.

AKSYS CLOSES OTOME-GAME GAP EVER SO SLIGHTLY
North America never can know the same deluge of “otome” games found in Japan, where a week rarely passes without four or five hundred new Vita visual novels aimed at female players. This hasn't stopped Aksys Games from stemming the tide just a little by translating Sweet Fuse and the Hakuoki games. And they have no intention of stopping now. Just as Idea Factory recently announced Otomate's Amnesia: Memories for the North American Vita earlier this month, Aksys readies Code: Realize ~Guardian of Birth~ for localization on the same turf. Who says the Vita is doomed?

The Otomate-made Code: Realize sticks its heroine with a malady worse than the usual bout of curses or amnesia. Cardia's body holds a mysterious toxin that destroys everything it touches (well, almost everything, or else she'd bore through the earth), and this makes her none too popular. Even in seclusion she's hunted, but help arrives with a dashing thief named Arsene Lupin. That'd be the older literary figure and not the anime superstar, so no one owes Monkey Punch a cent.

In fact, Cardia's journey through steam-tech Victorian locales leads her to various characters from classic fiction and embellished history, here envisioned as handsome young men. Count St. Germain, Victor Frankenstein, Abraham Van Helsing, and Impey Barbicane all show up to offer Cardia romantic relief and possibly solutions to her bizarre medical condition. I'll give the game credit for including Impey, protagonist of Verne's From the Earth to the Moon amid much more clichéd literary namechecking. And speaking of clichés, I find Cardia's little cog-shaped hairband hilarious. Steampunk puts gears on everything for no reason, and it's perfect for superfluous hair accessories.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: APRIL

STYLE SAVVY 3
Developer: syn Sophia / Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
A.k.a.: Girls Mode 3: Kirakira * Code

No, this technically isn't called Style Savvy 3. That's the North American title for the Girls Mode series, and the third game doesn't have a localization ticket just yet. However, most of us here came to know the series as Style Savvy, and some of us came to respect the two previous games for their surprising depth. They're all about forging a life in fashion, and they keep things simple enough for a ten-year-old girl in any nation to understand. And if you want a game about managing a clothing shop, you won't find anything better than Style Savvy.

Style Savvy 3 doesn't stick to a single path, either. Its two predecessors had the player working at a fashion boutique, but that's merely one of the five jobs available in the latest Style Savvy. Store owners try to keep customers happy with new selections and trendy outfits, beauticians give clients hairstyles suitable to their requests and overall lifestyles, makeup artists match customers' looks to their photo references, designers create new fashions, and models pose and pick out suitable attire. Granted, real-life models usually wear whatever the producers, photographers, and wardrobe people tell them to wear, but Style Savvy has to balance out the vocations here and there.

In sheer volume, Style Savvy 3 has more to it: 19,000 clothing options, plus 1,300 hairstyles. That provides plenty for players to discover in the game's five jobs, and those who excel in all of them can combine their work into one huge fashion show. The game's spare-time attractions follow the same path, as players can customize their rooms with various trinkets and décor, sharing the results online. Of course, Nintendo added Amiibo support. Figures of Mario, Peach, Kirby, and Yoshi create in-game items for the player's shop, presumably inspiring consumerist frenzies and thefts. Just like real life.

Import Barrier: The 3DS remains region-locked, and you'll need to know Japanese to understand customers and the game's fashion trends.

Domestic Release: Nintendo remains strangely quiet about a North American version—an actual Style Savvy 3, in other words. The third game and its five jobs perhaps present a heftier localization task.

Controversy: Does Style Savvy 3 glamorize the fashion world a little too much? Should its designers have their work stolen by senior executives? Should models be dumped by their agencies just after their 28th birthday? Should beauticians and makeup artists have to deal with rude customers who aren't satisfied no matter what miracles of style the player pulls off? Probably not.

SUPER ROBOT WARS Z3– HEAVENLY PRISON
Developer: Banpresto
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3 / PS Vita (and TV)
A.k.a.: The 3rd Super Robot Taisen Z – Tengoku-hen

Super Robot Wars strikes the same iron as those childhood memories of mixing all of your robot toys together with friends and neighbors. Most of the '80s brats in North America pitted Transformers against Voltron or Go-Bots or perhaps even Robo Force, but the idea remains the same. Super Robot Wars merely uses more robots from the larger pantheon of the anime industry ('70s brats even saw some as Shogun Warriors in America), and its reasons for the matchups are slightly less farfetched than Optimus Prime being Vehicle Voltron's long-lost brother.

Not that Super Robot Wars needs airtight logic in its storylines. The Z sub-series started off with dimensional barriers breaking down so much that the sky-surfing robots of Eureka Seven might share a world with the maid-pilots of Gravion Zwei, plus Gundams and Mazingers and dozens of other giant robots and combat mecha. We're now at the second part of the third Super Robot Wars Z game, and the storyline is a mass of subplots about dimensional invasions from Gundam's Neo Zeon and Gurren Lagann's Anti-Spirals, plus a cosmology powered by 12 spheres coded as a Chinese Zodiac signs. It's all excuses for familiar robots and their pilots (plus some originals) to pair up and face down equally familiar enemies (plus some new goes) on strategic maps. The two-machine teams can vary their attack ranges, and a Tension gauge builds up and eventually grants extra turns, stat boosts, and Maximum Break attacks.

The real draw is, once again, the lineup of robots and characters who show off their anime recreations in side-view battles and elaborate cutaways. Super Robot Wars Z3 – Heavenly Prison plucks from Zeta Gundam, Char's Counterattack, Gundam X, Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, Gundam Unicorn, Gundam SEED Destiny, Turn A Gundam, Zeta Gundam, Votoms, Godmars, Macross 7, Macross Frontier, Code Geass, Dai-Guard (why?), Daitarn 3, Zambot 3, Tetsujin No. 28, The Big O, Shin Mazinger Impact, Full Metal Panic, Gurren Lagann, the Evangelion movies, Robo Trider G7, Dancouga Nova, Aquarion, and the newcomers Gargantia and Diebuster. It's high time Diebuster ended up in this, even if it wasn't the first giant-robot anime to slice a planet in two.

Import Barrier: Many of the menus are in Japanese. Once you're past that, however, it's not hard to gorge on the buffet of robot warfare.

Domestic Release: I'm going to start calling these games Super Robot Wars. Atlus used “Taisen” instead of “Wars” for their Original Generation localizations, but the anime series stuck with “Wars” over here. I don't think it matters, of course, because the odds are greatly against anyone licensing another Super Robot Wars game. The Original Generation titles weren't massive successes, and no one wants to bother with a big pile of anime licenses, several of which never came out in North America.

Controversy: Some anime series appeared in Super Robot Wars Z2 but didn't make it into Z3. For example, Baldios, Xabungle, and God Sigma got the boot. And why? Has that 2chan meme with Baldios' Torinomias finally petered out? That can't 'be true. Memes never fade.

TERRA FORMARS: FIERCE BATTLE ON THE CRIMSON PLANET
Developer: FuRyu
Publisher: FuRyu
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
A.k.a.: Terra Formars: Akaki Hoshi no Gekitou

Terra Formars courted video games from the get-go. The earliest chapters of Yu Sasuga and Kenichi Tachibana's manga introduce a Martian expedition staffed by a multinational panoply of warrior-astronauts, and each of them has a distinct power based on some sort of animal (mostly bugs). Once on Mars, nearly all of them meet nasty ends at the hands of hostile, hyper-evolved cockroach humanoids…who look a little too much like grotesque caricatures of black people. That design choice smacks of racism, intentional or not, but it also provides the heroes and their insectile powers with masses of enemies to face. So there's your video game. Your possibly offensive video game.

Now Terra Formars has that video game. It's a brawler that sticks the manga and anime's roster of bug-powered battlenauts into melee combat in the hostile terrain of Mars. As most of the original team members die quicker than Attack on Titan extras, players can select from hornet-based Shokichi Komachi, general Aryan ubermensch Joseph Gustav Newton, moth swordsman Akira Hizamaru, explosive ant-woman Michelle K. Davis, crablike Sylvester Asimov, beetle-fueled Alexander Asmiov, spidery Marcos Eringrad Garcia, mantis-shrimpy boxer Keiji Onizuka, bird-based Kanako Sanjo, orca-ish Jared Anderson, tentacle-sprouting Liu Yiwu, eagle-esque Alex Stewart, plant-derived Ivan Perepelkin, and eel-powered Adolf Reinhardt. Yes, we have a character named Adolf in a story with blatant racial overtones. Tread carefully, Terra Formars.

Fierce Battle on the Crimson Planet revolves heavily around the characters' special powers and flashy deployments. The stages keep up a supply of cockroach-people to be diced, pounded, and otherwise destroyed (and a DLC code lets you play as one of them). Yet it's all primitive. The character models are basic, and the gameplay rarely progresses beyond punching unintelligent foes until a better attack presents itself. For further evidence, consider that Famitsu gave the game a 26 out of 40. That's pretty much one of GamePro's blue, unexcited faces.

Import Barrier: The 3DS region-lock remains in effect, though the gameplay presents few challenges.

Domestic Release: There's minimal chance of seeing this here, and not merely because the Terra Formars anime is unlicensed.

Controversy: Those cockroach-men haven't kicked up that much mainstream objection so far, but the more general exposure Terra Formars gets, the more people will notice what's wrong with it.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI: DEVIL SURVIVOR 2: RECORD BREAKER
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: May 5
Best Society: Constitutional Anarchy
MSRP: $49.99

Let us all make a pact. We will not buy Devil Survivor 3 upon its release. We will wait for the inevitable enhanced remake of the game, with its extra storyline and new characters and whatever else Atlus decides to include. We shall abstain from buying Persona 5 as well, because it'll see the same sort of reissue as Persona 3 and 4. Yes, we will make a stand and delay gratification. That will work, and we surely aren't lying to ourselves.

Those who waited on Devil Survivor 2 will find it a traditional Shin Megami Tensei recruitment video at first: three students, including the player's puppet protagonist, are rescued from a subway crash (seemingly predicted by a strange website) and turned into Devil Summoners. They're at the fore of a battle between humans and an invading race of demons called Septentrione, their battlegrounds the handful of unconquered Japanese cities. The cast of squabbling teenagers, accomplished agents of the JP's group, and sidekick monsters carries out their battles on strategic grids. Each human (or humanoid) party member commands two demon familiars at a time, and the actual fighting shifts to a first-person struggle between the targeted creatures and the chosen character's monster team—much like the older Shin Megami Tensei RPGs, in fact.

Record Breaker actually takes it easy on players who went through the game before. The new story arc unfolds directly after the original Devil Survivor 2's plotline and introduces the Triangulum, a new trio of Septentrione. And you're free to jump into that bonus plotline right off the bat. Record Breaker also has much more voice acting, more music, and the option to switch between two difficulty levels at any time (something I hope the next Fire Emblem allows). And there's a new character, one Miyako Hotsuin. She dresses a little like a regular JP's agent and seems to be yet another soldier on humankind's side, but the newcomers in these expanded games are rarely what they seem.


Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter if you want.


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